Fortunes can change in a matter of seconds for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as we have seen many times this season that a particular play or injury can really change the course of the game and schedule for the ailing Wine and Gold. It’s good to know, however, that the most talented player and team leader Kyrie Irving will be back on the court for the Cavs’ next home match on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni made comments earlier this week that Steve Nash will most likely still be out for Kyrie’s return.
Four weeks without the main floor general for the Cavaliers seemed like it would take an eternity, and even three weeks did with the frustrating losses stemming from first quarter meltdowns to everybody else sucking on the court besides Anderson Varejao. According to the Cavaliers team website, the reigning Rookie of the Year returned to practice on Monday and will be available in Tuesday night’s game. On Monday morning, every Clevelander and Cavalier fan from around the globe took a collective sigh of relief.
In his absence the offense struggled and the highly-criticized bench performed their best duties all season long in the eleven-game stretch. During that time, Cleveland went 2-9 and averaged 93.1 points. There were five games, including an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, when I believed that if the Cavaliers had their shining star, they would have no doubt come away with a W. That’s not saying that Jeremy Pargo wasn’t filling in nicely when Irving fractured his left index finger. In fact, the former Memphis point guard put up respectable performances in a majority of the contests.
Over the 11-game span, Pargo averaged 14.5 points, 4.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 40.8 percent from the field. There were some games in which he just didn’t know when to turn it off once he got cold, like in the late loss against the Miami Heat. Sometimes Pargo would come in and force low-percentage shots in an attempt to close out or win a game. He’s no Kyrie, but now the Cavaliers know that they have a formidable weapon coming off the bench.
In a game against some of the biggest NBA superstars, despite their struggles, it is good to at least have one part of the 38.1 points per game backcourt tandem consisting of Irving and Dion Waiters. Waiters will most likely sit out the contest against the Lakers, so Kyrie’s return will have to be an offensive outpouring if the Cavaliers want to snap their current five-game skid. In Irving’s absence, the Cavs went on two losing streaks of four games or more.
Before being sidelined, Irving was averaging 22.9 points, 5.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds with a PER of 20.26. Even though he is not eligible for certain statistical categories due to the time he has missed, Irving would be ranked among the top 10 in points per game and first among point guards. Having him back elevates this team from NBA laughing-stock to competitive losers. This team isn’t quite there, but Irving puts his team in the position to win games against any opponent that may take the floor with the Cavaliers.
A lot has changed since Irving has been gone, and it begins with the play of Anderson Varejao. We saw Wild Thing develop into one of the league’s most intriguing stories, as he currently leads the NBA in rebounds, averaging 15.2 boards. With Varejao’s motor running at full force, Irving and the man in the middle will be a dangerous matchup nightmare for many teams without a physical big and flashy No. 1.
The Lakers will tipoff with Cleveland at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, and that’s when we’ll see how much Irving adds to this struggling squad.